Ruth Rudner
Ruth Rudner

David Muench's National Parks


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We chose the steeper of two trails for our first day’s hike. It seemed the quicker route to the gorge a couple of miles below the junction of the trails. Although both trails descend about three miles through pines and fir, the steeper one-- the Reno Lookout Trail-- looked shorter on the map. It stayed on the dry side of the canyon while the Cienega, which we intended hiking the next day, follows water much of the way. The trailheads are three miles apart on a forest road that gets use on weekends when people desperate to leave the heat of Phoenix drive to these northern mountains. Weekday traffic is sparse. It was Wednesday.

Not far from our start, we encountered the first of the blowdowns, a medium-girth pine we stepped over. After that, the trail rarely offered more than a few clear feet before the next blowdown, violent result of major wind an earlier year. Some of the fallen trees were high enough off the ground that we could crawl under them, or remove our packs to wriggle through on our backs, or inch through on our bellies. Some required climbing over, then jumping down on the far side. Where several trees meshed together across the path, we climbed uphill or down to round a mass of roots, or tangled limbs. A grouse sitting on nine eggs -- her nest lodged between the trunk and a limb of the tree we had just climbed over – flew up with sudden loud wingbeats and frightened squawking, she and we equally startled. David photographed the nest and we hurried away from it.

By the time we reached the trail junction, our legs scratched and bruised, we both had the same thought. Perhaps the other trail would be better. (It didn’t seem possible it could be worse . . .) Instead of saving it for the next day, maybe we would just hike it out. If it wasn’t any better, it had in its favor that we didn’t know that, while we did know the trail we had just descended. The downside was that from the Cienega trailhead, we had a three mile road trek to the truck.

"I’ll leave my pack with you and get the truck," David said.

"We’ll get a ride," I said, wondering if I was lying, and whether lying is fair when intended as encouragement.

We had lunch on the north fork of Bear Wallow Creek. Running in little riffles and falls, the creek formed a perfect small pool just above us. Near the creek, yellow flowers interrupted the forest shade, the stillness of the pool, the white of dancing water, the grey of boulders (Mr. Emerson, of course, was right. The earth does laugh in flowers.) We ate cheese and apples and dates and forgot about the trail.

Wanting to photograph the gorge, David took off after lunch. I moved to a small, lovely meadow a little downstream. Leaning against a comfortable rock, I sat on soft earth in a gentle place at the creek’s edge. When David had been gone awhile, I imagined it quiet enough for wolves to emerge. Bear Wallow Wilderness, in Arizona’s Blue Range, is a primary recovery area for the Mexican wolf. A trailhead sign offers $10,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of individuals responsible for shooting wolves.

Wolves have not had an easy time here. The Blue Range abuts New Mexico’s Gila, and while there are millions of wild acres here, with plentiful elk and deer, there are also people in the region too frightened of the idea of wolves to welcome them. In Yellowstone, where wolf restoration has had success, the beginnings were fraught with a philosophy of "shoot, shovel and shutup." While that mindset will never entirely disappear, here in Arizona/New Mexico, where there are fewer people, fewer roads, fewer observers, more fear, more misunderstanding, those words often become a credo.

Nevertheless, there are wolves here. I believed with all my heart that if I was alone long enough, quiet long enough, one would come to the stream to drink.

Three small white butterflies circled one another in a fluttering dance. Moving in and out of sunlight streaming between trees, their quick wings flickered the edges of light. Flitting between one another, constantly changing places in a kind of lepidopteric dosy-do, the pattern of their dance was as intricate as any square dance. Then, although I never took my eyes from them, suddenly they were gone.

Two reappeared on the far side of the creek. Unlike the Morning Cloak butterfly who landed on a boulder in the stream, folded its wings and stayed, the white butterflies never stopped moving. I wondered if butterflies ever got tired.

I got tired. I closed my eyes, awakened sometime later by birdsong. The creek babbled. The sun fell soft across me. How beautiful an awakening . . . .Perhaps the wolf came as I slept.

"It was even rougher down there," David said on his return, his legs more scratched and bloodied than when he left.

We headed up the Cienega trail without discussion.

It wasn’t any better.

Following Bear Wallow Creek, then a tributary to the creek, we crawled under and over and around huge, uprooted trees. Now, though, this seemed to me how life was. You get used to things. Life becomes one fallen tree after another. One obstacle to make your way around after another. One test after another. Not that you don’t remember ease. A trail you just walk on. But you do what the trail presents. You don’t even stop to think that—tomorrow--you will call this adventure. You just go under or over or around the next tree.

"It will be a long walk to the truck," David said, about three quarters of the way up the trail.

"We’ll get a ride, " I said, thinking that –tired as we were -- faith was a means to the trailhead, then wondering about the lack of faith that terms faith a lie.

Still in forest, but nearing the trailhead, we heard a vehicle. "It’s going the wrong way," David said. We’re not there anyway, I thought, wondering if that would be the single vehicle passing this evening. It was now almost 7:00. Arizona is not on daylight savings time, so night comes earlier here than in the rest of America.

We reached the trailhead at the exact moment a truck pulled into the parking area. Two men in camouflage emerged, one carrying a rifle.

"What’s the trail like?" the driver asked. "Can we take horses down there?"

"There’s no way a horse can do that," I said.

"We tried last year," he said. "Lot of blowdowns. We turned back."

"Nothing’s cleaned up," I said.

"Where’d you come from?" the man asked, suddenly realizing that there was no vehicle parked.

"We started out on the other trail," David said.

"That’s your truck down there?"


"We’ll drive you back," the man said.

All four of us in the hunters’ truck (it is turkey season), noticed how long, and how uphill, the three miles from the Cienega trailhead to the Reno Lookout trailhead is.

David and I drove up the road, then off it to a campsite. The sky was huge, and full of stars.

"It was as if they came to pick us up," I said.

"You said we’d get a ride," David said.

Copyright © 2009 Ruth Rudner